Airline retail has shifted, and rightly so, to focus on safety and reassurance, supporting customers with the vital services and information that ease travel concerns throughout their journey, so they can book with confidence. Airlines need to appeal to safety concerns and ensure relevancy to their customers, while generating critically needed revenue and providing new, and regularly changing, essential travel information.
Airlines’ retail strategies must therefore correspond by connecting their customers with content that makes them feel safe, merchandising what matters, when it matters for deeper customer engagement and a deeper wallet share.
This can include offers such as a free middle seat, COVID-19 test kits and certificates, pandemic travel insurance and ground transportation for a safe onward journey. It may also include offers that add more convenience and comfort to a traveller’s journey such as priority boarding, seat allocation, added baggage, in-flight WI-FI or a duty-free purchase. The ancillary merchandising opportunities are vast.
Trust, Transparency and The Direct Opportunity
With an evident increase in direct bookings via airlines’ websites, it is clear that customers want to go where they have greatest trust and transparency in their purchase. This is with the airline.
Today, a successful airline merchandising strategy will not only reassure customers with safety-based offers, information and services, but also provide them with a great, personalised experience and unlock new potential revenue streams. Packaging ancillaries intelligently at different stages of the travel lifecycle and corresponding to the changing customer purchasing mindsets across their journey*, as well as incorporating social distancing and safety measures such as COVID-19 test certificates, will influence the conversion and adoption of ancillaries, while improving the customer experience.
Connecting your customers with content that makes them feel safe – The ancillaries that reassure and provide peace of mind
Ancillaries like free changes & cancellations and seat distancing will play a key role in encouraging customers to book with confidence and to have control over their safety on board. Charging extra for a free middle seat enabling passengers to feel more socially distanced on board could help airlines win back passenger confidence while simultaneously providing them with an additional ancillary revenue stream. This can of course be adapted for bookings of three or more people, when middle seats can appear as available to allow families to select seats together on the seat map.
Examples of airlines applying this include Philippine Airlines who introduced a ‘Distancing Seat’ for passengers who book a Premium Economy Class or an Economy Flex fare. The ‘Free Middle Seat’ ancillary has been successfully implemented by Eurowings who are charging from 18euro upwards for a free middle seat. They have seen significant uptake since launch.
Unsurprisingly, seat location has become an increasingly important ancillary, as passengers want to be in the front of the cabin for a quicker and smoother exit upon arrival. Extra leg room, which provides more personal space, is also important.
As airlines introduce enhanced cleaning, sanitisation and improved air filtration practices to ease customer concerns, highlighting these safety measures in the shopping flow is key as travellers will look for specifics when considering when – and with which airline – to fly.
In line with this, there is no doubt that ancillary items focused on sanitation such as masks, seat covers, and gloves to be sold at the time of travel, will have a high conversion.
Understanding and Empowering the Customer
Airlines that allow customers to purchase empty seats and other ancillaries that provide them with more personal space and a feeling of safety, are empowering their customers to take control of their trip. It’s about understanding and taking care of the customer, enabling customers to buy what is important to them, addressing their safety concerns while making their journey more comfortable, seamless and personalised. A great example of making the path to purchase, and to travel, as smooth as possible for customers is JetBlue’s new service offering customers the possibility to have a home COVID-19 Test and book this via their website before flying.
Integrating Digital Health Passports into the Merchandising Flow Means Greater Reassurance and a Safer Travel Environment
In efforts to further drive reassurance and ensure safety when travelling, there is an increasing number of announcements regarding airlines’ plans to introduce health passport apps or digital health pass systems that verify that travellers have a negative COVID-19 test result before flying. These passports will in time include vaccination details to confirm if a traveller has been vaccinated against the virus. For example United and JetBlue along with other airlines plan to introduce a health passport app, called CommonPass, which will verify passengers’ coronavirus test results in the first instance and likely vaccinations after that. Similarly an announcement from IATA stated that a digital health pass system is in its final development phase which should help open international travel. This will focus on digital certificates being issued by approved testing laboratories that the passenger is COVID free at the time of testing.
The ability to include access to these digital health passports in the merchandising flow pre-travel is another way in which airlines can build trust and encourage their customers to return to the skies.
Real-time Customer Engagement and a Frictionless Retail Experience
Engagement with customers is to become increasingly real-time and airlines likewise need to be supported by products that enable them to react to market and customer demands in real-time with tactical products, promotions and services that meet their customers’ needs. This will bring airlines and their customers closer to the reality of a frictionless retail experience.
Cultivating Deep Customer Relationships Beyond the Seat
The unprecedented disruption to travel by COVID-19 has brought many changes, including how airlines merchandise. It’s increasingly about merchandising with meaningful, value-add customer interactions that extend far beyond the customer’s flight, that engages them and meets their needs pre, during and post journey and in fact can extend to non-travel related products as well as travel specific products.
Airline merchandising strategies will evolve as airlines reset and recover, restore trust and confidence in flying and build deeper customer bonds to be poised for rich, end-to-end travel lifecycle retailing when full demand returns.
The deeper that relationship becomes, the greater the future merchandising revenue opportunities for airlines. Realising a chain of revenue opportunities along the customer journey, all while providing a great experience and increasing brand loyalty.
By enabling a stronger, highly personalised and highly flexible merchandising strategy with an extensive product offering across the travel lifecycle, Datalex Merchandiser supports the evolving merchandising needs of airlines to support their priorities in times of severe travel disruption as well as providing the enhanced merchandising ability to bounce back quickly from a disrupted market. From essential and safety focused retailing post-COVID to readiness for a future of rich digital retailing when demand returns, Datalex Merchandiser ensures airlines are on the path to digital retailing excellence, while meeting the immediate needs of customers as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.